CLEMSON — When a college football team opens a new season, the first two games can be a good barometer and often set the tone for the rest of the year.
Clemson's football team will be no exception, particularly this year with a quarterback battle brewing in the national spotlight.
After their home opener against Furman on Sept. 1 and a road game at Texas A&M on Sept. 8, the Tigers will have a much better idea of where their season is headed.
A good sign if ...
• Kelly Bryant doesn't miss a beat. Starter or not, if Bryant looks as good to open the 2018 season as he did to finish the 2017 season, Clemson will know the senior quarterback is ready for whatever role the Tigers need him to play. It has been an odd balance for Bryant all summer in terms of trying to retain his job while also making sure he is mentoring the young Trevor Lawrence. That is a lot for a 21-year-old student to balance emotionally and if Bryant is able to pull it off, it will set a major tone for the rest of the season.
• Trevor Lawrence lives up to the hype. There might not be another true freshman quarterback in the country that has loftier expectations thrust upon his shoulders than Lawrence. The word from Lawrence's high school coaches and Clemson's staff is that the 18-year-old phenom is never bothered by a big moment on a big stage. If and when Lawrence takes the field in front of 102,000 screaming fans at Texas A&M in Week 2, that notion will be tested like never before.
• Clemson beats Texas A&M in convincing fashion. There are few coaches that know Dabo Swinney and his tendencies more thoroughly than coach Jimbo Fisher does and the two will meet again in Week 2 now that Fisher has taken over the Aggies' program. If Clemson cannot only win at Texas A&M, but do so in convincing fashion, the Tigers will make a statement that they have laid the foundation for another playoff run.
• The running back battle isn't settled. If Clemson does not have a true featured running back after Week 2, that will mean the entire group has proven it is worthy of playing time. Having Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice all right there with each other means Clemson will have three dominant running backs to wear down defenses.
A bad sign if ...
• The uncertainty of the quarterback battle affects the rhythm of the offense. Because Bryant and Lawrence have such opposite skillsets, it will be imperative for Clemson's offense to be ready for either of them. If the two split time and/or there is any uncertainty about who is going to take over, it could affect the rhythm of the offense. If that happens, particularly with Clemson's wide receivers, it will become very evident very quickly.
• Tee Higgins' spring game performance does not carry over. Higgins stole the show at Clemson's spring game, branding himself as the most likely contender to be Clemson's next marquee receiver. He gained muscle over the summer and has been impressive during practice. But if that spring game was a fluke and Higgins does not perform to the level coaches think he will, Clemson will have to reevaluate its offensive plan.
• Greg Huegel struggles to get back to true form. Huegel was Clemson's starting kicker a season ago before he tore his ACL, which forced backup Alex Spence to step up. Spence struggled with confidence issues initially. Now that Huegel has returned and seems in line to win his starting job back, the Tigers are thrilled. But if for some reason he is not as consistent as he was or not as accurate as he has been this fall camp practice period, the Tigers will likely not have the All-ACC/All-American caliber-services he brings to the table.
• Depth doesn't start developing. Clemson has loads of depth at every position, with the exception of the cornerbacks unit. It will be a bad sign if the starting cornerbacks are either hurt or do not perform to the standard and Clemson has to get creative. It will also be a bad sign if the depth at other positions does not start developing. Clemson coaches can evaluate all they want from practice and intrasquad scrimmages, but actually carrying that over to games is an entirely different.